Hot off a beatdown of the Carolina Panthers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look to stay red hot Sunday when they take on the San Francisco 49ers. The formula to win this week is basically the same as last: Josh Freeman must have a big game and the offense must give the defense points to work with.
The most obvious thing that needs to happen Sunday is Josh Freeman must have another solid game. The Bucs are 2-0 when Freeman throws for 25o yards or more and are 6-0 when his quarterback rating is higher the 85%. Why is this important? The 49ers currently own the 20th worst passing defense in the NFL. Their secondary only have 8 interceptions and Freeman is 4-1 when he throws no interceptions. These stats bode well for the Bucs offense however the lingering fact that Tampa Bay hasn’t won in San Francisco in 30 years stays in the back of people’s mind.
Then again this isn’t the Joe Montana led, Steve Young led, or even Jeff Garcia led 49ers squad. And the defense is far from a dominant force. It did however start off with high expectations this year and could be looking to salvage what they can of this season as the NFC West is still wide open. Every game counts for the 49ers and they will by no means lay down arms to Tampa. The offense may not be too powerful or dangerous but the defense has the potential to burn you and burn you bad. Names like Patrick Willis, Takeo Spikes and Nate Clements aren’t names to just brush off and forget about. Willis is in the top 10 in the league in tackles and DE Justin Smith is 13th in the NFC in sacks with 5. Against a young offense, this defensive unit for San Francisco may not have a bad day. But if Freeman can get comfortable early, gets good protection and finds his guys, things might go the Bucs way. There is the new development of the whole Mike Williams ordeal and morally right or wrong, the guy is going to play and has the chance to have a big day. We might even be lucky enough to see another Kellen Winslow sighting.
Another area looking for a big day will be the backfield for Tampa. LaGarrette Blount and Cadillac Williams are quickly becoming a very viable and reliable one-two punch with the two sharing touchdown totals last week. Blount isn’t quiet the feature back yet but he’s a heck of a threat. The job also isn’t all Cadillac’s either but Williams has had a nice comeback from devastating setbacks early in his career. They are facing the 10th ranked run defense in the league tomorrow which is a bit of an upgrade from the Panthers last week. However the Bucs are 5-0 when either Blount or Cadillac rush for 50 yards or more. The 49ers are averaging 100.7 yards per game against the run and Blount is quickly rising among runners in the NFC currently ranking 9th with an average of 59.8 yards per game. However the 49ers have held all top rushers they’ve faced to under 100 yards. It’s unclear who is the Batman and who is the Robin of the Bucs backfield but regardless of nicknames, the Bucs need both backs to turn in superhero performances.
Defensively for Tampa Bay, last week was solid. Now this week is another opportunity to build on that confidence. They are facing another inexperienced quarterback in Troy Smith however Troy Smith is no Jimmy Clausen by any means. 49ers Head Coach Mike Singeltary gave the reigns over to Smith after back up quarterback David Carr turned in a less than impressive performance (ironically at Carolina), and since then the 49ers are 2-0 with wins over Denver and a divisional win against St. Louis. Smith is hot right now and threw for 356 yards against a defense Josh Freeman only threw for 212 yards against. The scary part is the 49ers have about the same amount of weapons as Carolina did last week, but Mike Singletary knows how to use them. The 49ers passing offense is ranked 16th but Smith only put up 196 yards against Denver’s 2nd rated pass defense. Tampa Bay will be looking for more of the same with a defensive secondary ranked 8th. The Bucs couldn’t muster up an interception last week against Clausen and will be hungry for a few against Smith. They also only allowed 191 yards and held Clausen’s completion percentage in the fifties. This is a performance The Bucs would very much like to repeat.
Don’t let that 21st ranked run game of San Francisco fool you. The one thing that honestly separates last week’s game plan with this one is Frank Gore. Despite playing for a 3-6 team, Gore has managed to be a top 10 rusher yet again. Bad news for Tampa: they rank 31st in rushing defense. This could be a difference maker if Gore busts lose and the Bucs front can’t stop him. In that same light, it could be a chance to build some real confidence on the young front. If Aqib Talib, Ronde Barber and friends can neutralize Smith and the passing game, the Bucs may be able to stack the box and blitz a little more often not only putting pressure on Smith themselves, but possible plugging holes and jamming running lanes for Gore. Last week was more of a test of offense, this week the defense may be relied on a little more heavily to come through in big spots.
Bottom line, Tampa Bay can and should win this game. San Fran is favored to win but it’s a close line. One can’t help but feel the same way they did about last week: Sunday’s game is just another tune up before the big boys come to town. Tampa Bay has Baltimore next week in Baltimore followed by Atlanta. Tampa must win this game to ride into that tidal wave of talent with swagger. If that happens the Bucs have a really good chance to get on a hot streak. The 49ers are a 3-6 team that should honestly be a 6-3 team with really close loses to the Saints, Eagles, Falcons and Panthers. Tampa Bay will be no doubt tested tomorrow and our true colors will show. Hopefully the Bucs can give fans something to be thankful for a few days before Thanksgiving: another satisfying win.